Three people were on board the McDonnell Douglas MD-11F for the seven-hour flight from Singapore.
After aborting its first landing attempt, the plane headed south over the Royal National Park before turning back to the airport where it made a safe landing on its second attempt. Ground emergency services were dispatched to meet the aircraft, but were not required.
Authorities confirmed that there were no hazardous materials on board. The incident appears to have happened within minutes with the plane landing at 10:40 p.m.
After landing, the pilot thanked air traffic controllers and briefly detailed what happened, according to recordings of the conversation.
“I really appreciate your help, sir. We had a flight control malfunction. The pilot expressed concern about “a flap” and treated it as a “flight control problem”.
The air traffic controller praised the pilot: “Very well handled,” he said.
The distress call and the incident were reported to federal authorities.
In a statement, the Australian Transport and Safety Bureau said: “The ATSB is gathering further information on the circumstances of an occurrence where an MD-11 cargo aircraft conducted a missed approach and issued a call for distress on approach to land at Sydney Airport on Saturday evening.”
AirServices Australia has been contacted for comment.
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